welcome to Café Ludwig

There are many nooks and crannies in this place, this corner is for chats and tips about cameras, computing, and sharing photos, aimed at folks fairly new to the hobby. From the “front door” you can get to other topic areas and especially the galleries. Do visit the other corner of Café Ludwig for more on photos and photography.

Relax and read about your favorite pastime, you do need to bring your own cup of coffee.

Right now a lot of sprucing up is going on. You may have noticed the updated layout and a more readable font. Other changes are coming, so please excuse the dust.

Looking into Shadows

There are many occasions when an outdoor photo with the sun at your back is just not right, and with the sun in front the shadows are inky dark. It is especially troublesome when you have friends or relatives in the photo and can hardly discern their faces. There is not much you can to when taking such photos. When you are close to a subject fill-in flash will help, but with a larger scene you just can’t compete with the sun. This is when we turn to post-processing tools.

This article looks at several tools for bringing out the detail in the shadows. My illustrations here are meant to illustrate the effect of the tools that I investigated. They do not show how additional tweaks can make such photos even more appealing.

Let me start with a full frame photo of a street scene from the Norcross Art Fest 2014.

Original - straight from the camera

histogramA pleasant scene but all you can see is sky and pavement. The histogram shows that the exposure was as good as you can get. Just a tiny bit of the cloud at the right top is “blown out”, completely overexposed. With the sun in back of the people their features and faces are totally shadowed. The tent shadows at the right make it hard to discern that there are people there.

My first tool is Photo Gallery. I use it to import my photos to my computer, to organize the photos, and to make many of my enhancement adjustments. To help with the shadows the “Shadows” slider is the primary tool. For this next illustration I moved the Shadows slider all the way to the right (maximum shadow lightening) and also set the Highlights slider to the left, minimum, setting. This made for a photo that is acceptable even without any other adjustments.

Photo Gallery - Shadows and Hightlight adjusted

When using Picasa there is a “Fill Light” slider. The effect of this control is more aggressive than the Shadows slider in Photo Gallery. For the next image I set the Fill Light slider half way up. Any more and the photo gets washed out. Picasa has a Highlight slider but it can’t reduce the highlights, it can only increase them – not what is needed here.

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The third tool I want to illustrate here is really my favorite, onOne Perfect Effects. The HDR Effects tool has a number of presets. I really like the Surreal effect. There is a Compression slider that can adjust the effect to your liking. This effect not only brings out the details in the shadows it also brings out details in the highlights. Note the beautiful sky here. Also note that the pavement has been darkened yet the people appear very pleasant. There is not the “HDR look” with those cartoonish enhanced edges that is the bane of HDR over processing.

onOne Perfect Effects HDR

The remaining illustrations are all done in PaintShop Pro. The next one is one of the HDR presets in the PaintShop Pro “HDR – Single Raw Photo” tool set. Here too, there is a great deal of control available to modify and adjust the effect. I just used one of the presets without further adjustments. It might be just a wee bit too much. The sky has some unpleasant drama in it and the edge lightening of HDR processing is becoming way too obvious.

PaintShop Pro HDR

I have two more illustrations. These are here to show the effects that can be pretty much accomplished by any good photo editor and will be pretty much the same regardless of tool.

The next one merely adjust the “gamma”, the tonal compression, of the image to a value of 2.5. This does lift the detail out of the shadows but does nothing for the highlights.

PSP - Gamma 2.5

Lastly, still in PaintShop Pro, I used the “Fill Light” control, set to 100, and the “Clarity” control at 50. 

PSP - Fill Light

None of these images completely satisfy me. Normally I would make additional adjustments to bring the image to what I like best. I just wanted to illustrate here that there are many tools and numerous approaches available to “bring light to the shadows”. Don’t be afraid to shoot into the sun. Just make sure that the camera exposure does not allow many over-exposed details or yields overall under exposure. There is a price to be paid when the shadows are lightened in post-processing: there will be increased noise. It may not be apparent in photos from some of the more capable cameras, and in most cases it will be quite tolerable.

.:.

© 2014 Ludwig Keck

Nikon NEF Codec and Photo Gallery

Microsoft Live Photo Gallery is a most useful and versatile tool for managing your photos. I have used it enthusiastically for many years. Like other photo handling programs, it needs to translate the image files to viewable images. For photos stored in the camera manufacturer’s RAW file format it needs a “codec” to do the translation. Microsoft provides the “Microsoft Camera Codec Pack” for use with Windows 7 (and earlier). That works well but does not allow appending or changing the file properties, “EXIF” data, for the RAW files. My recommendation has been to use the manufacturer’s codec instead, and for Nikon users that is the “Nikon NEF Codec”. That has worked well for me in the past. It allows adding meta data, such as comments or tags, to the RAW files, “NEF” extension files, and does all other things well.

Some months back I noticed that there were problems with files coming from Nikon D800 cameras, I did not check with files from other Nikon cameras. Since then Nikon has updated the codec a couple of times, for the D810 and more recently for the D750. Unfortunately the problems have persisted.

What happens is that any NEF photo files that have tags or other metadata added get hopelessly mangled in Photo Gallery when they are changed to JPG format. Here is what thumbnails look like:

WL-thumbnails-NC-1

Viewed large they look the same. Take one of those files to another application and it either looks the same or even more psychedelic like here:

WL-thumbnails-NC-2

Files that did not have metadata changed work perfectly well. There are probably all sorts of other conditions under which all is well. I have not explored the possibilities.

Since adding metadata was my objective for using the Nikon codec in the first place, not being able to do so successfully defeats the use. Nikon is aware of problems with Photo Gallery and says so in their release notes. I just wish they would fix the problems.

This article is also published on my This ‘n That blog.

.:.

© 2014 Ludwig Keck

Museum Photography 2

Visit to the Delta Flight Museum

Delta Airlines recently opened the Delta Flight Museum to the public. The museum is located in two historic hangars, now on the Delta Airline corporate campus. A most interesting place to visit. My visit there also provided me with some additional thoughts and tips on museum photography to go along with my earlier article, Museum Photography.

The Delta Flight Museum is housed in two connected maintenance hangars dating from the 1940s. These historic hangars are now located on the Delta corporate campus adjoining the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. When you visit, be prepared to show ids at the security gate.

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Two historic aircraft maintenance hangers house the Delta Flight Museum
This very wide-angle photo is stitched together from two smartphone photos

Unlike most museum artifact, aircraft are rather large. This makes getting them into pictures difficult unless you have a very wide-angle lens. I stitch photos together. Photo Gallery does a fine job of that. Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) does a superb job. I use both. ICE is especially handy when some perspective correction also needs to be done.

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Delta’s first 767 aircraft is now a museum inside the museum 

The largest item inside the museum is a Boing 767 aircraft. LJK13046-P4-2000Inside the rear portion has been converted into an exhibit area with display cases along the sides.

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The Spirit of Delta – Boing 767 aircraft purchased for Delta by its employees, retirees, and friends in the financially difficult times in 1982.

A number of items, like luggage carts, have been turned into display cases and there are numerous interactive displays giving information about the artifacts and the history of flight.

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The Delta Flight Museum, like other museums, is illuminated for a pleasant experince by visitors not for cameras. The light requires high ISO settings and the techniques of noise reduction described in the earlier article. The high contrast range, illustrated here by the view into the “business end” of an aircraft engine and the cockpit, requires HDR processing. That technique was also covered in the prior post. For the images here I used primarily the “shadows” slider in Photo Gallery and the HDR effect in onOne Perfect Effects 8.

The many historical items take the visitor back to the early days of Delta, indeed to the early days of passenger flight. There are many interesting artifacts like the early “amenity kit”. Yes, indeed, there was a time when smoking was common in airplanes.

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Early day customer being assisted in boarding flight.
Tableau at the Delta Flight Museum.
Atlanta, Georgia

When we look at what flying was like some 85 years ago when Delta got started in the passenger business, we smile at how plain and  simple it all was. The equipment was outright crude, and so was the merchandising and the service.

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LJK13028-P3-2000

Even I remember those simple days of flying. On my first flight on a DC-3 when we arrived at our destination the pilot hopped out, unlocked the door to the terminal and came back and unloaded the luggage. The Delta Flight Museum has the first Delta DC-3, now beautifully restored.

Douglas DC-3 aircraft at the Delta Flight Museum

Douglas DC-3 aircraft at the Delta Flight Museum

Of course, I couldn’t resist this opportunity for a “selfie” in the polished metal of the DC-3.

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The Delta Flight Museum is still a work in progress. There are several aircraft outside the hangars that have not (yet) been integrated into the museum experience for visitors. Photography is permitted “for personal use”. There is a museum shop, of course. Be sure to pick up a memento there.

.:.

© 2014 Ludwig Keck

Little DOF Lesson

Just a little lesson about depth of field

This wasn’t meant to be a lesson at all, just a walk in the park with my camera along. Although the morning was cool, if anything below 80 degrees (27C) is defined as cool, the humidity was quite tiresome. Here in Dixie the nighttime temperature in summer falls down to around the dew point making for a nice steam bath. The birds could be heard but they weren’t about to come out of their hiding places. The larger creatures couldn’t be seen either. I settled on “scenics”, plants, and insects to satisfy my camera. As is my habit, I take a picture as soon as something comes in range, then approach my “model” taking more photos until the beastie takes flight. That is normally a couple of shots at best. But on this occasion the dragonflies were reluctant to escape. A got several sequences. I was happy with my “take” and my walk.

When I inspected my photos I noticed that some of the dragonfly photos taken from a larger distance neatly showed more depth of field than the closer shots. Of course, that is how optics works, and it seemed like a pleasant little reminder, or lesson on this topic. Let me tell you a little more.

First, so I won’t lose you, a few of the photos. They are not masterpieces, but will illustrate my story nicely.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

The little strip of images shows all seven exposures of this little friend. All were taken with my lens at 200mm focal length setting and at f/11. In the larger photos I show three crops from three exposures. The top one was from the shot I took from 1.6m, then 1.2m and 1.1m. You can clearly see that the far left wing is sharper in the top photo than the bottom one.

We all know that you get more depth of field, the area where things look sharp, at smaller apertures, that is larger f-numbers. Here is an example of that. Two photos, the left one at f/5.3 the right one at f/11. Everything else was the same.

LJK12513-14-Q1

We also know that at the same aperture setting the depth of field is greater at larger distances from the camera. Not something we usually think about, especially when we are shooting at close distances. If you need more depth, step back! That is not one of the typical advise rules. But it is true. My dragonfly reminded me of this consequence of the way optics works.

For you, dear reader, I did a little bit of extra work. Modern cameras, even my eight-year old little Nikon D60, record all sort of information for each picture taken. EXIF data is what we normally call this set of details that comes with our photos. With auto-focus lenses even the focus distance is recorded. So I was able to go back and get the distance for each shot, then calculate the depth of field at that distance. Here are the results.

DOF-200-f11

At 3 meters, about 6 feet, I get close to 100 mm, 4 inches, of depth of field, DOF. At 2.2 m the field is down to about half that. At my closes distance, about 1.1 m, 44 inches, the DOF is down to 12 mm, a bit less than half an inch.

The moral of the story, once again, if you need more depth, step back! Of course, you need sufficient pixel resolution to be able to crop so you can see your subject.

.:.

© 2014 Ludwig Keck

The Runt

The Runt of the Take

The day was a pretty good one for me, 102 photos. There is still that old “Kodachrome habit” in me – be frugal with exposures and make every one count. So this was a lot of exposures for me. Of course, it was a special day, a trip the the Botanical Garden of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia, U.S.A. There is always a lot to enjoy there and it is a gorgeous and rich environment for photography.

But back to the subject: Runt – smallest, weakest, least likely to succeed. Every “take” of photos has these, some get thrown out without another thought, some just form the detritus in the archives. Every so often I take another look and ask myself, “is there something in that photo?”

The “subject of this post” is one of those “runts”. Sometimes I do a lot of fancy processing, sometimes I take them into “art effects” tools, sometimes, when I have time on my hands, I try all of these.

OK, here is one of the results. I post this first so it will show in the links to this post in the various social places. If I showed the original first, you, my dear reader would most likely have passed it by.

Opium Poppy

This is a photo of an opium poppy from the International Gardens. This one taken from the side, slightly below the flower. I liked the light on it at the time. The result didn’t impress me nearly as much. So it landed in my “make art of this” corner when I came around to it.

I needed to run some tests on the latest improvements to Windows 8.1. I have it in a VMware virtual machine. Drag and drop works beautifully in this system. I opened Microsoft Word 13 in the guest machine and dragged over the thumbnail from Photo Gallery that I had open in the host system. A bit of manipulation and I had a pleasant image. Yes, the Photo Tools work nicely in the current version of Microsoft Office.

Opium Poppy

Then I took the image into PaintShop Pro to work on it. After some of my ideas did not work well, I wondered if maybe a black and white version could bring out the lively, light, and vibrant aspects of this blossom. Making a B&W of such rich and intense red seemed like sacrilege unless I could retain the feeling of purity of the color. I decided that “purity” is best evoked by white, so I used full red filtration for the conversion and make it into a high key image. Some sharpening and a bit of contrast adjustment and I was satisfied that I was doing justice to the flower.

Opium Poppy

Opium PoppyThe images above are three of my attempts to give this runt of a photo a chance. I guess I would be amiss if I did not show what I was starting with. The original photo here is shown smaller than the others to allow it cower shyly in the corner. It gets its chance of limelight in the costumes of “artistic effects” above.

.:.

© 2014 Ludwig Keck